She should have been overwhelmed with joy about having her first baby. Instead, her boss told her she was selfish, because it wasn't her 'turn'. And it wasn't on the roster.
A poignant letter to a newspaper has revealed an expectant couple's pain at experiencing the callous culture of maternity harassment or "matahara" that is rampant in Japanese workplaces.
The young woman, 26, a childcare worker in Japan's Aichi Prefecture, and her husband were shamed for breaking an "unspoken" rule about when it was her time to fall pregnant in a workplace that wanted to dictate when its female employees could have children.
There were even "shifts" for when female staff could get married, as well as when they could fall pregnant, to avoid too many workers taking leave.
Her employer had drawn up a schedule based on seniority, which stipulated when she could only have a baby.
"In January of this year, we found out that my wife was pregnant," the husband wrote in his letter published in a features section of Japanese daily paper The Mainichi. "My wife, who is a child care provider, appeared glum and anxious over the news," he continues.
Welcome to Japan: where female workers are discouraged from having children at all, and pressured to take "turns" to delay maternity leave and the "burden" on their colleagues if they do, experts say.
"The director at the child care centre where she works had determined the order in which workers could get married or pregnant, and apparently there was an unspoken rule that one must not take their 'turn' before a senior staff member," he wrote.
The pair went together to her boss to apologise.
"We're sorry we got pregnant," they said.
The husband said while the director "grudgingly" accepted the apology, his wife had been chided ever since with comments such as: "How could you so selfishly break the rules?"
"My wife feels guilty thinking about the hard labour conditions of her colleagues," the husband wrote.
"I am fully aware that we are at fault for not planning well. But who benefits from having their 'turn' to have children dictated, and following those rules?
"Child care providers sacrifice their own children to care for the children of others.
"It is a noble profession that nurtures children who will forge the future of this country.
"I respect my wife for her commitment to her profession, and continue to encourage her.
"The conditions of those working to nurture and care for children are evidence of a backward country."
MATAHARA IS REAL
The letter sparked nationwide debate, and has since gone international, exposing both the practice of 'matahara', and the poor conditions for child care workers in Japan, where waiting lists for child placements are long, but those who provide that care are paid poorly and work long hours, including weekends, and plenty of unpaid overtime.
Many more women from various professions have since shared similar stories.
One woman was told she had to wait until her mid-30s to fall pregnant, despite the fact that in her mid-20s she was already suffering fertility problems.
She was sent an email detailing the marriage and birthing schedule for herself and 22 female colleagues, which warned "work gets backed up if four or more people take time off at the same time. Selfish behaviour will be subject to punishment."
As the employment rate among Japanese women climbs, so do the day care waiting lists. More than 47,000 children were on waiting lists for certified day care in Japan last year, according to The Japan Times.
It was the third straight year the lists had lengthened, especially in major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, which accounted for 72.1 per cent of all waiting children.
The government had planned to achieve full enrolment by March 2018, but last May pushed that goal back to March 2021.
"Day care staff can't even have their own children with peace of mind," one Japanese commentator noted.
"The work of a child care provider is demanding but the pay is low. Day care staff cannot continue their jobs if they make considerations for the selfish demands of the parents of the children they care for."
WOMEN CONSIDERED "RITUALLY UNCLEAN"
In a country where women struggle for equality, the shortage of child care and widespread overtime in Japan have made giving birth so uncommon that employers and colleagues increasingly see a co-worker's pregnancy as a selfish lifestyle choice.
At the same time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promotes "womenomics" — encouraging Japanese women to participate more in the economy — they are dogged by discrimination.
That discrimination was on full show this week when a sumo wrestling judge ordered women — including a doctor doing CPR on a collapsed man — out of the ring because women were considered "ritually unclean" in the sport.
The man, a local mayor, had an acute cerebral haemorrhage during a speech and collapsed.
"Ladies, please get off the ring," a sumo referee said, determinedly. "Only gentlemen go up."
The Japan Sumo Association's chairman Hakkaku later apologised for the incident and thanked the women, Reuters reported.
"It was an inappropriate response in the life-threatening situation."
The mayor survived.
The incident sparked outrage on social media as fresh evidence of how women are discriminated against in Japan.
"There are so many traditions and ideas in Japan about how women can behave and what worlds they can enter," Chelsea Szendi Schieder, an expert on gender in Japan who teaches at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo, told Reuters.
These traditions range from whether a woman can inherit the imperial throne (no) to whether they can make sushi (occasionally, as a gimmick).
Japanese journalist Toko Shirakawa says pregnancy rostering or scheduling certainly exists at Japanese companies.
"Even when pregnancy rules are not strictly enforced, women are inclined to refrain from getting pregnant at the same time as their female colleagues who take maternity or child care leave, because they don't want to cause trouble to their other colleagues," Shirakawa told The Times.
Shirakawa has served on the government's panel on work culture, and said the practice was illegal, but women who pursued their legal rights received minimal success, and scant settlements.
While women are made to feel guilty or selfish for taking time out to have children or look after them while their colleagues pick up the "slack", they are also judged for not having children.
It's a bitterly ironic, no-win scenario given that the government wants to tackle the problem of a population crisis by raising the fertility rate from its current 1.44 children per woman to 1.8 children per woman by 2025.
"Japan wants to meet global standards but at the same time there are these traditions and these gendered spheres," Schieder said in the wake of the sumo wrestling expulsion incident.
"Things are changing for women in Japan but it feels like one hand gives and the other takes away.
"Traditions are made by people and they need to serve people, so if this brings about some kind of reckoning about how we can help traditions meet contemporary expectations, that would be a good thing," Schieder said.